Samuel Huntington (July 16, 1731–January 5, 1796) was an American jurist, statesman, and revolutionary leader from Connecticut. He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress where he signed the Declaration of Independence, as Governor of Connecticut, and later as the first President of the United States in Congress Assembled .
Samuel was born to Nathaniel and Mehetabel Huntington on July 16, 1731 in Windham, Connecticut. He was the fourth of ten children, but the oldest boy. He had a limited education in the common schools, then was self educated. When Samuel was 16 he was apprenticed to a cooper, but also continued to help his father on the farm. His education came from the library of Rev. Ebeneezer Devotion and books borrowed from local lawyers.
In 1758 Samuel was admitted to the bar, and moved to Norwich, Connecticut to begin practicing law. He married Martha Devotion (Ebeneezer's daughter) in 1761. They remained together until her death in 1794. While the couple would not have children, when his brother (Rev. Joseph Huntington) died they adopted their nephew and niece. They raised Samuel H. Huntington and Frances as their own.
After brief service as a selectman, Huntington began his political career in earnest in 1764 when Norwich sent him as one of their representatives to the Connecticut Assembly. He continued to be returned to that office each year until 1774. To his practice and role in the assembly, Governor Fitch named him the King's attorney in 1765. He also remained in the post until 1774. In 1774 Governor Jonathan Trumbull appointed him to the colony's Supreme Court, which was then known as the superior court. This position carried with it a seat on the Governor's Council which served as an upper legislative house to the assembly. He held this office continually until 1778, and for that last year he was the Chief Justice.
Huntington was an outspoken critic of the Coercive Acts of the British Parliament. As a result, the assembly elected him in October, 1775 to become one of their delegates in the Continental Congress. In January of 1776 he took his place with Roger Sherman and Oliver Wolcott as the Connecticut delegation in Philadelphia. He voted to support, and later signed the Declaration of Independence.
Articles of Confederation
Samuel returned to the Congress each year through 1781. As a result, he was also one of the members who signed the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union when the congress adopted them in 1777. For several years in the Congress he quietly supported the revolution, having his greatest impact by urging the states and their legislatures to support the levies for men, supplies, and money needed to fight the Revolutionary War.
While not known for extensive learning or brilliant speech, his steady hard work and unfailing calm manner earned him the respect of his fellow delegates. As a result, when John Jay left to become minister to Spain, he was elected President of the Continental Congress on September 28, 1779. His steady hand helped keep the Congress together as the nascent country faced reverses in the field after the excitement of their victory at Saratoga. As the situation became more desperate, he stepped up his efforts through letters and contacts to get the States to complete the ratification of the Articles, that had laid on the table for years.
By the time he became the Presiding officer, every state except Maryland, had ratified the Articles and the Confederation. Maryland's main objection lay in her disputed claims to the Ohio Country. Huntington managed to convince the Legislatures of New York, Virginia, and Connecticut to cede their claims to the national congress. After that, Maryland gave in and did likewise, finally ratifying the Articles on March 1, 1781.
The Articles limited the term of President to one year, but the Congress resolved that service before the Articles were in force didn't count. So Huntington stayed on office, now as President of the United States in Congress Assembled, until July 6, 1781 when ill health forced him to resign and return to Connecticut. In 1782, Connecticut again named him as a delegate, but his health and judicial duties kept him from accepting. He did return to the Congress as a delegate for the 1783 session to see the success of the revolution embodied in the Treaty of Paris.
Governor of Connecticut
In 1785 he was elected as Lieutenant Governor for Connecticut, serving with Governor Matthew Griswold. In 1786 he followed Griswold as Governor of Connecticut, and was reelected annually until his death in 1796. That same year, in a reprise of his efforts in Congress, he brokered the Treaty of Hartford that resolved western land claims between New York and Massachusetts. The following year he lent his support to the Northwest Ordinance that completed the national resolution of these issues.
In 1788 he presided over the Connecticut Convention that was called to ratify the United States Constitution. In later years he saw the transition of Connecticut into a U.S. State. He resolved the issue of a permanent state capital at Hartford and oversaw the construction of the state house. He died while in office, at his home in Norwich on January 5, 1796.
Huntington County, Indiana is named in his honor. The home that Samuel was born in was built by his father, Nathaniel, around 1732 and still stands. The area is now within the borders of the town of Scotland, Connecticut. In 1994 the home and some grounds were purchased by a local historic trust. As of 2003 restoration is underway, but parts of the home and grounds are open to visitors at limited times.
His nephew and adopted son Samuel H. Huntington moved to the Ohio country that he had been instrumental in opening up, and later became the third Governor of Ohio.
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